Hee's Homer Secures WCWS Trip For Washington
SEATTLE - With Gabbie Plain dominating again in the circle and Sis Bates performing magic at shortstop, third-seeded Washington didn’t really need Noelle Hee’s pinch-hit homer to defeat No. 14 Kentucky 5-0 on Saturday night.
The implications moving forward could be much higher.
After starting the vast majority of the time in her first year and a half with the Huskies, a season-long slump had pushed Hee into primarily a pinch-hitting role. Her .273 average and seven homers as a freshman had dipped under .200 with just one homer, with fellow sophomore Emma Helm getting the majority of starts over the past several weeks at the designated player position.
Wildcats starter Autumn Humes had mostly matched Plain through five innings, as UW held just a 1-0 lead in the top of the sixth. Helm worked a two-out walk to extend the inning, and Washington Head Coach Heather Tarr went to her righty power bat, looking for a spark.
After hitting the first pitch very hard but also very foul into the football stadium well behind the first base line, Hee got her bat out slightly earlier and lined the 0-1 pitch from Humes into the right field bleachers.
“That was probably one of my most proud moments as a coach,” Tarr said. “Watching a human lock in, be able to perform in that moment and do what her team needed her to do. That was a life-changing moment for me.”
On a team that’s struggled to find pop outside of the 22 home runs by catcher Morganne Flores, Hee boasts by far the best raw power on the team.
“I wasn’t thinking about hitting a home run,” Hee said. “I was just thinking about going up there and doing what we do every day. What we practice to do. What we spend hours with the coaches on, supporting us to be the best we can be.”
“(We knew that) it’s only a matter of time before she’s going to come around offensively for us,” Tarr said. “This year, she’s had to play a little bit of a different role than last year.”
Hee’s home run backed a two-hit shutout from Plain, who did not allow a runner past first base as she improved to 23-2. Plain has not allowed a run in her last seven appearances, scattering 10 hits over 31 2/3 innings with 48 strikeouts.
Until Hee padded the lead in the sixth, it looked like a crazy play in the first might be the only run. With one out and nobody on base in the first, Flores lined a double to the base of the wall in left-center. Kayla Kowalik’s throw to second got away as Flores got up and scrambled toward third. First baseman Mallory Peyton picked up the overthrow and had a chance to nail Flores at third, but her throw hit Flores sliding in and bounced into Tarr in the third base coaching box.
Tarr tried to leap out of the way after the initial hit, but in the process, accidentally kicked the ball with the back of her left foot and it went straight into the UK third base dugout. After a lengthy discussion, the umpires awarded Flores home plate, much to the disagreement of Kentucky Head Coach Rachel Lawson.
Washington (50-7) earns their third consecutive WCWS appearance and the 14th trip in program history. The Huskies are one of just three programs to win 50 or more games each of the past three seasons, joining Oklahoma and Florida State.